Photography by Luke Gilford for Out and Diet Coke.
You’ve likely seen their image and name for a while now, but especially during the past year. Whether gracing a guest appearance on late-night TV or promoting their memoir Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, author and activist Jacob Tobia has accumulated a strong community of followers through encouraging all of us to live our best and most authentic life. Out chatted with Tobia to find out more on what motivates them, inspires them, and pushes them to be so unapologetically themselves.
Tobia is disarmingly charismatic — the kind of person that makes you stop and watch, not because they have stubble, or because they stand about six feet tall in heels wearing full makeup, but because of the confidence and courage that exudes in every move they make. Their energy is infectious, real, and captivating. We sat with Tobia as they got prepped for the shoot with renowned director Luke Gilford and chatted about queer life in the South and their recommendation on how to live for yourself.
Though they have since moved to Los Angeles, Tobia still reminds us that they are very much a Southern heart through and through. Tobia cites the trans and queer folks of color as being some of the most resilient and brilliant queer minds we have, and they are dedicated to elevating the more complicated, nuanced, and powerful stories of Southern trans/queer folks to the mainstream. Tobia believes it is their duty to uplift the voices of trans and queer folks who have chosen to stay put and make their local communities more affirming places to live. They also note that in the South they also “have the best biscuits. And nothing’s gayer than a good biscuit!”
Tobia told us that they made a choice to live life as a visibly gender non-confirming person, knowing that it would illicit potentially negative responses. They say when they wake up each day, they make a choice to reject shame and fear. Tobia’s confidence is not only something they have, but it is also something that is earned. Tobia tells us how they choose to live their life in a few words, “I spent my entire childhood being told that – as a gender nonconforming person, as a sissy, as a trans person – I should stifle my creativity and make myself small. That’s why today, I live my life loudly, messily, joyfully and with fanfare.”
According to them, writing their memoir Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story is the single most important thing they have ever done in their life. Tobia calls it their “public declaration of healing.” They went on, “No matter how we identify, we've all had a complicated journey with gender. My hope is that Sissy inspires people to own their journey, heal from it, and share that healing with others.”
On what pushes them to live their life so unapologetically, Tobia exclaims, “Whenever the 'shoulds' of the world get me down or weigh too heavily on my heart, I look to my community, my herstory, and my transcestors to buoy me back up. I think back on all of the brilliant trans and gender non-conforming elders who have come before me, who have paved a way when there was none, and I remind myself that I can do it, too!” Tobia utilizes the stories and desires of past idols to share their own hopes in the future. “I want everyone to live their life unapologetically, to let their freak flag fly, to shine at their brightest setting, because self-expression heals the world.”
What's next for the inspiring author and activist? Tobia teases, “I can't say too much about it, but we're pitching a TV show adaptation of Sissy very, very soon, and I could not be more stoked! Also, I'm planning to write books for the rest of my life, so you can be on the lookout for those too!”